Matt Coles serves as the Senior Program & Contract Analyst for IVAC. Prior to IVAC, he worked for the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and served as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa from 2000-2003.
This is not a not a sports article, I promise. On Sunday, February 1st, millions of people tuned into the Super Bowl to watch the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks duke it out, including an incredible 4th quarter catch by Jermaine Kearse of the Seahawks and a goal line interception by Malcolm Butler to clinch the Patriots win. One of my passions is football, but I was unable to watch the last quarter of that game. Our three month old son was having trouble breathing.
As a parent, there are two situations in which you always take your child to the hospital – when their fever is over 100°or they are having trouble breathing. The cough started small on Friday and only worsened over the weekend. Finally, on Sunday night, we made the decision to head to the hospital. My wife hurriedly made her way to the hospital, trying to beat the snow that was coming down, while I stayed back to call the neighbors to watch our daughter, who was fast asleep.
Matt's baby in the hospital
Later at the hospital, we discovered our son had Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV. This is a virus that affects breathing and, in infants, secondary infections such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia can make it more serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost all children will have an RSV infection by their 2nd birthday. Here in the United States, approximately 100,000 - 126,000 infants and children under the age of two are hospitalized from RSV.
RSV was new to us and, aside from short-acting prophylaxis for at-risk children, there is no vaccine on the market to prevent RSV.
I am well-informed about respiratory infections in children such as pneumonia, whooping cough, influenza, croup, and Hib. I’m very fortunate to work at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and its International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) – a place where I can ask my colleagues questions on childhood diseases, both from an academic and parental standpoint. Not all parents are this lucky.
As parents, we sometimes question our decisions for our children, especially when they get sick. Should we have called the pediatrician earlier? Will the medicine work? Will the fever break? It goes with the territory.
One thing we do not question is the benefits of vaccines. I have seen firsthand the benefits of vaccines in The Gambia, where I served as a Health Volunteer with the Peace Corps from 2000-2003. During my Peace Corp service, I worked with the Ministry of Health National Immunization Days for Polio. We went house to house helping to vaccinate children with the oral polio vaccine (OPV) and providing Vitamin A supplementation for infants during week-long vaccine campaigns. More than a decade later, our son’s brief battle with RSV only helped to reinforce the value I place on vaccines and the need for more, effective vaccines.
When we came home from the hospital, we also had to do breathing treatments four to five times a day to continue to loosen the mucus. There were some sleepless nights that week, but we got through it. The cough dissipated and like the Patriots victory, my family was also able to celebrate duking it out with RSV. The victory photo says it all...